A Ft. Wayne jury has awarded a former Catholic school teacher $1.9 million after she was fired for undergoing in vitro fertilization, reports the Journal Gazette.
Emily Herx, a language arts teacher at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School, was notified by the Ft. Wayne Diocese that her contract for the 2011-12 school year would not be renewed because of her use of in vitro, which the diocese described as a “sin.”
In vitro fertilization — or IVF — is a procedure that involves combining egg and sperm in a laboratory dish before transferring the resulting embryo into the womb.
According to Herx and her attorney, the loss of her job violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex and pregnancy-related medical conditions.
The diocese stated Herx violated the terms of her contract containing a morals clause promising to uphold Catholic teachings. During the trial, attorneys for the diocese argued that, according to Church teachings, in vitro is gravely evil, an intrinsic evil, and under no circumstance can it be justified.
Herx had previously informed the principal at St. Vincent de Paul that she had undergone the procedure in the past. But when she notified school administrators of her third in vitro fertilization cycle in February 2011, it came to the attention of parish priest Rev. John Kuzmich who demanded she be terminated, calling her a “grave immoral sinner.”
During the trial, priests and the local bishop testified that they wanted Herx to show remorse or regret for making the decision she made, but she refused to do so.
The jury decided in Herx’s favor, deliberating only 5 1/2 hours before awarding her $1.75 million for emotional and physical damages, $125,000 for medical expenses, $75,000 for lost wages, and $1.00 in punitive damages. Herx’s previous salary at the school was approximately $28,000 per year.
A tearful Herx addressed the media on the courthouse steps saying, “I was so happy. It was unreal.”
The diocese intends to appeal the jury’s verdict to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeal, with attorney John Theisen stating the case remains an issue of religious freedom, and that exemptions in civil rights laws for religious employers should have protected the diocese from the unfavorable verdict.
“It never should have brought the case to trial,” Theisen said.